Years produced: 1969-1972
Claimed power: 32hp @ 8,000rpm
Top speed: 90mph (approx.)
Engine type: 247cc two-stroke, air-cooled parallel twin
Weight: 146kg (322lb)
Price then: $699 (U.S. 1971)
Price now: $1,000-$2,000
MPG: 50 (est.)
I was halfway out of the door of the classic bike dealership, heading for home, when the little blue Suzuki in the corner caught my eye. It was unrestored, slightly dusty and clearly hadn’t been ridden for ages.
The bike was still instantly recognizable as a Hustler, the 250cc two-stroke twin that enjoyed a fearsome reputation in the early 1970s, and I couldn’t resist asking if there was any chance of a ride.
Half an hour later, my head was tucked down between the raised handlebars, and my eyes were glancing back and forth between the road and a slightly faded speedometer whose needle was creeping towards the 90mph mark. Down below, the two-stroke engine was revving almost to its 8,000rpm redline as I prepared to snick the six-speed gearbox into top gear. But I had every confidence the T250 wouldn’t let me down, almost 35 years after it had first burbled out of a showroom to make some youthful owner the king of his local roads.
Way back when …The Hustler was one of the bikes that put Suzuki on the map in the early Seventies — perhaps more than any other model. Its capable big brother (the T500 twin) had been around for two years when the T250 was launched in 1969, but the bigger two-stroke never quite captured the imagination of a motorcycling public that preferred four-stroke engines when it came to larger road bikes.
On the other hand, most riders regarded two-stroke engines as a perfectly acceptable way of obtaining high performance from a smaller package, and the T250’s predecessor, the T20 X6 Hustler, had already established a sound reputation in that regard. Launched in 1966, the 247cc two-cylinder T20 was light and quick (good for over 90mph, it was even raced successfully), and its six-speed transmission was a first for a production machine. But the T20 was very much a bike of the 1960s, with dated features that included a chromed gas tank with rubber knee pads and an optional, accessory tire pump that clipped to the frame in bicycle fashion.
Suzuki’s achievement with the T250 Hustler was taking all the good bits of the T20 and bringing them screaming into the 1970s with a modern styling package, combined with a more powerful and robust engine. Even the T250 designation was much more logical than “T20.” And the Hustler name — dictionary definition: “lively or energetic person; disco dance with a variety of steps” — was perfectly suited to a bike that required plenty of rider input (including quick footwork) and responded with giant-killing performance.
Rev happyThe star attraction, now just as back then, is the engine. The peaky little unit only really comes to life at about 5,000rpm, but it sure gives plenty of acceleration from that point until past its 8,000rpm redline. The lack of low-rev pulling power isn’t a big problem, because the twin runs cleanly enough below 4,000rpm, just without any great enthusiasm. In traffic the peakiness might become annoying after a while, but on my fairly short ride the Suzuki’s light weight and agility helped make up for that.
Besides, the little twin’s rev-happy nature gave all the more excuse to keep that throttle wound open, my left foot poised on the shifter lever and my head tucked down out of the wind. As its speedometer was 10 percent optimistic, given a long enough straight a suitably young and aerodynamic owner could see well over 100mph on the clock, which was pretty good for an air-cooled 250.
In the real world that translated to a cruising speed of 70mph-plus, provided I made use of the gearbox at times to keep the engine pulling cleanly. The six-speed box changes very sweetly, making the Hustler a pleasure rather than a pain to keep in its power band. Cycle World’s test noted that the T250 box was much stronger and more reliable than its equivalent in the T20, which they said had been “plagued by uncertain shifting and damaged gears.”
Stable at speed
It’s not often that a 35-year-old bike handles better than it would have when new, but judging from those contemporary tests, this Hustler is a lot calmer and better controlled in middle-age than it was in its youth. Cycle World very generously commented that the Suzuki’s slim twin-downtube steel frame “looks a little like the famed Norton Manx Featherbed frame, and is undoubtedly very strong,” and reckoned that “handling qualities at speed are very good.”
Even so, the testers admitted “we’d like to see somewhat stronger fork springs and heavier damping qualities.” And the rear shocks were apparently “all too typically Japanese in their operation. That is, they lack sufficient rebound damping and have a tendency to act like a pogo stick after hitting a bump.”
Ah yes, the early 1970s, when few Japanese bikes could be ridden hard before the owner had switched to thicker fork oil and replaced the rear shocks.
The good news regarding this particular Hustler is that the original shocks had already been replaced by a pair of British-made Hagon units, and the forks were sufficiently well damped to suggest that they’d been rebuilt with thicker oil than they held when new. The Suzuki’s front end still dives slightly when the impressively powerful twin-leading-shoe drum brake’s handlebar lever is given a firm squeeze, but the bike copes with bumpy roads far better than I’d expected.
The Hustler’s replacement Continental tires had plenty of grip on dry roads, too, and despite being pretty narrow, would doubtless have worked fine in the wet. That certainly wasn’t true of the hard-compound Inoue tires commonly fitted when the bike was new, and which caused riders of the day some heart-stopping moments in the rain. Ironically, the Hustler’s drum brakes were untroubled by water, but when Suzuki replaced this model with the GT250 in 1973, one of its new features was a disc front brake that was dangerously poor in the wet.
That failing didn’t prevent the GT250 — whose other main innovation was its “Ram Air” system, essentially a piece of bent tin that helped direct air onto the cylinder head — from maintaining the twin’s popularity through the mid-Seventies. In those days any young motorcyclist who admired Suzuki’s 500cc world champion Barry Sheene was likely to be equally impressed by the 250cc two-stroke roadster’s speed and excitement. All these years later, the T250 Hustler still delivers plenty of both.
Owner: Mike Muetz
Location: Placerville, Calif.
Occupation: Retired state park ranger
Etc: Mike’s first bike was a 1965 Honda CB77, bought used in 1967. He’s also owned a 1965 Honda CL72 and a 1971 Honda CB350. He’s just restored a 1974 Suzuki TS185, is beginning work on a 1974 Suzuki T500 and recently bought a 1964 Honda CL72.
“I remembered the X6s of the 1960s, but never had the opportunity to own one. A Grange friend got me back into the vintage bike scene when he gave me a yard sale 1970 T250 he had in his barn. The bike was very sad. I started work on it in January of 2004 and went for my first ride in June of 2004. This was the first two-stroke motorcycle I had ever owned. The high pipes were missing and the gas tank inside looked like a dried-up aquarium. The finished product was very satisfying.
“The T250 was great fun. The more you twisted the throttle the more it wanted to go. It had plenty of power and a very smooth transmission. I never could locate the high pipes but rescued a pair of low pipes from the trash. In 2006 I towed the T250 behind my 1930 Ford Tudor up to Washington state. We attended a Model A Ford meet and then a Blue Knights Motorcycle Meet. We received a lot of great waves and thumbs up along the way. In January ‘Susie’ went to a new owner who lives in the Seattle area.”
ResourcesJarmo Haapamäki’s Suzuki Page
Vintage Japanese Forum
Parts — Paul Miller Motorcycles